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OFS FEATURED CONTENT: Portable Food

Logo for Oxford Food Symposium 2022

Bloomsbury Food Library is excited to once again take part in the 2022 Oxford Food Symposium being held at St Catz College, Oxford. You will be able find us in the exhibitor hall, and we will also have a host of information and special offers available online too. Whether you will be attending in person on virtually, we look forward to seeing you there.

In anticipation for the upcoming Symposium, we have brought together a carefully curated collection of eBook chapters, encyclopedia entries, and digitised images from across the Bloomsbury Food Library. From pasties to picnics, whet your appetite for the big event with this Featured Content on the theme of Portable Food.


Thomas Cole’s The Pic-Nic, 1846 (Wikimedia Commons)

The History of the Picnic

Throughout Europe the same word defines the same object: pique-nique for the French, ‘picnic’ for the British, picknick in German. In spite of this universality, the onomatopoeic expression, without any reference to a dietary practice or to a meal, covers several activities, socially varying, but essentially ‘eating out of doors’ when people take their food along with them. Picnics are described not only through literature, both fictional and narrative, but also through pictorials and long-neglected photographic sources. In this chapter from Eating Out in Europe (2003), Julie Csergo considers the emergence of the term ‘picnic’ and its semantic evolution through European history.

Black-and-white photograph of a crowd having dinner in Wisbeech town square at long tables, to celebrate a royal jubilee. There are houses with flags on the edge of the square, as well as a crowd of onlookers.

A Royal Jubilee Dinner

Bloomsbury Food Library provides access to an extensive host of image collections from leading museums and galleries, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to the National Archives, which offer students and instructors innovative ways to discover and research food in context. Dated 1887, this black-and-white photograph from the National Archives captures the crowd celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria with a community dinner in Wisbeech town square. Long communal tables are set up along the street with many people partaking in the feast. Around the edge of the square are houses adorned flags, as well as a crowd of onlookers.

Vegetable skewers grilling on a BBQ

Picnics and Food Courts – Portable Food in North America

John Mariani's Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (2013) has long been the go-to book on all things culinary. This fully illustrated revised and expanded edition catches readers up on more than a decade of culinary evolution and innovation, with hundreds of entries on key terms, trends, biographical entries and recipes. Explore the theme of ‘portable food’ with these chapters on picnics and barbeques, or delve into the realm of food on the go with these chapters on airline food and food courts. This chapter focuses in on the humble pasty, a dish that can be traced back to 1296 and became a staple midday meal for Cornish miners of the nineteenth century as a portable food that was “tough enough to withstand being dropped down a mine shaft”.

Vegetables in a market stall

Food Markets as Outdoor Rooms

Food markets have been at the centre of urban space for thousands of years, giving rich vibrancy to cities and putting food-centred conviviality at their heart. It is argued in this chapter from Susan Parham’s Food and Urbanism (2015) that the everyday interplay between people and food in and around food markets and food shops is perhaps the most important way that food has been central to urban life. Parham focuses in on the historic role of the food market, before exploring the decline of market-based food retailing, and the regeneration of urban food quarters that have emerged in places that have managed to maintain or renew a rich gastronomic quality as successful outdoor rooms.